What To Do When Your Apartment Floods – A big source of leakage during a heavy storm is the windows and interior doors. Protect your apartment by making sure they have a strong seal.
Flooded basements were not the only devastating consequence of New York’s recent wave of extreme weather. Even residents on the top floors of apartment buildings suffered from leaks from flooded terraces and windows broken by rain, putting them at risk of mold. New Yorkers in brownstones and townhouses were just as vulnerable.
What To Do When Your Apartment Floods
With climate change storms becoming more intense and frequent, you may be looking for ways to protect your New York apartment or building from the elements. Your ability to do this depends on the type of accommodation you have. Even if you can’t make repairs, remember that prevention – ie routine maintenance – costs money. Be aware that most leaks start from the exterior of a building, including the roof, siding, windows, doors, decks or balconies, and chimneys, so you’ll want to start there.
Things You Should Do After A Flood
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post was published in September 2021. We’re reposting it as part of our Best of Brick winter week.]
“The number one problem for most city dwellers is that they can’t control the actual renovation or upgrade,” says Stephen Varone, president of Rand Engineering & Architecture, which specializes in – restoration and design of new buildings. Even in the case of shareholders or owners of units in a cooperative or apartment building, the board is responsible for the appearance of the building. This is especially relevant in connection with changes in local legislation No. 1. 11, which require more frequent inspections of the facade, including the waterproofing area.
Even if you are not ultimately responsible for building maintenance, you should be concerned about how your landlord or board will respond to storm damage. At the end of the day, your stuff is inside, says Jeffrey Gross, director of operations at full-service damage restoration company Maxons Restoration. Not happy with your rehabilitation plan? One option is to hire your own expert at your own expense to perform an independent evaluation.
Of course, if you own a brownstone or townhouse, the buck stops with you. And if you’re planning a gut renovation, you may want to consider working with an engineer to install barriers that go beyond current code requirements for weather resistance.
What To Do After Your Apartment Floods
Here are some tips on how to fortify your apartment or brownstone and protect it—and your property—ideally from the next inevitable storm to hit New York City.
A roof can take the brunt of any heavy storm – so it should be your first line of defense against heavy rain.
If you have an apartment with access to the roof, pay attention to joints or openings, especially around window sills and casings. Gross also recommends being careful when landscaping your patio or garden so you don’t unknowingly break the protective membrane. Any tear or break in this waterproofing material can cause the upper floor units to become storage tanks.
In addition, you will want to locate drains and make sure they are not blocked or obstructed by furniture or other objects. They should also be free flowing (you can tell by pouring a little water on them – it should come off without bubbles or lumps).
How To Clean Up After A Flood
Both Gross and Varon stress the need to check the canals often, especially in autumn, and clean them under warranty. “A clogged drain means that water will pour down the downspout instead of the downspout (or downspout) and end up flooding the patio and getting under the doors that would otherwise fit,” says Varone.
And if strong winds are expected, be sure to secure any unsecured items or bring them inside – they can easily fly into your windows or your neighbors’ windows.
As with the roof, check all patio drains to make sure nothing is blocking them – including a pile of leaves in the fall. (If your patio doesn’t have a curb around the edge, it may not have drainage.)
Gross was affected by the flood before he even moved into his apartment because of the overflow from his upstairs neighbor’s patio. It turned out that the neighbor had covered the drain with a carpet and did not remove it when the storm hit. (Instead, Gross heard him go to the patio wall with a hammer to try to drain the water in the pool. So he called the police, and when they lifted the carpet, a lot of water came down the drain. )
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You can also combine hatches by placing Quick Dam flood barriers along the base of your patio door (or garden level apartment door). These lightweight reusable bags absorb water, then become heavy enough to protect the door and keep water out – and compress when dry. (Don’t throw 50-pound sandbags in the elevator.)
If you have older single-paned windows, you should make sure that there are no gaps or cracks in the glass around the frames – these windows tend to form frost on the inside, increasing the risk of breakage. Replacing the stucco and/or coating can help with regular rain, but otherwise it’s time to upgrade to new windows that better protect against strong wind and rain.
For example, double-glazed and triple-glazed windows are designed with a vacuum seal around the edges to prevent outside air and rain from entering. However, this seal can fail due to poor installation due to age or temperature variations. That’s why it’s a good idea to have the window company check the sealing of each window – and make repairs if necessary. These can include resealing and adding sealant, as well as replacing hardware such as window hinges, locks and jacks. But sometimes even older versions of these windows need to be replaced – or you can go with stronger “skyscraper” glass that is made to withstand extreme weather conditions.
You will need to run this with your co-op or housing committee as there may be restrictions on the type of windows you can use. If it is in a historic building, the Historic Preservation Agency will need to approve any replacement. Ditto for a brownstone in the historic district. (For more details, you can read Brick’s guide to updating Windows.)
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Gross also recommends keeping all exterior windows closed if a severe storm is expected — or if you plan to be away during storm season. This helps ensure a tighter seal and prevents accidental opening.
If damp is a recurring problem, the first step is to find out where the water is coming from – usually from the external soil in the walls or seepage from below. Depending on what your contractor discovers, this could be filling cracks with hydraulic cement or caulking around windows. Open stone walls can be closed with a waterproof coating, and a waterproof membrane can be applied on the outside. More serious conditions will require a foundation specialist. And depending on how much it all ends up costing, you may decide to hedge your bets – especially if that’s the least of your worries.
Regardless of whether you have regular damp, you need to make sure your drainage system is strong enough – and fix any deficiencies (for example, if your basement has had a lot of accumulation in one place or significant flooding during the Eid). One of Varone’s solutions is to build a dry well, “which is like a big empty box where excess water can accumulate in just that one area and then slowly drain when the crisis is over.” Digging a trench around the inside perimeter works in a similar way to prevent water from migrating around it.
Another option is to create a French drain, where a trench filled with gravel is fitted with a perforated pipe that redirects the water from the inside of the tank to the outside. (If you ever want to finish the basement, the walls are usually framed on the inside of the pit.)
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In addition to one of these drains, you can add a sump that starts when the water level rises too high. “It hasn’t been a common sight in the city so far, but they’re probably from here,” says Varone. If you already have a sump pump, he warns, to make sure it’s working properly: first make sure the main switch is always in the “on” position – and that the circuit breaker doesn’t trip (and if it did, switch it back to -correct position). Then you can reach into the pit or bucket where the drain is located to raise the float mechanism which should trigger the pump to turn on (you will hear a suction sound). And it is worth having the pump serviced by a specialist at least once a year to check if the drain is clogged and to clean the mine. And know that most sump pumps last about ten years.
Some basements will be prone to a certain level of moisture no matter what you do, says Gross. If this is your concern, we recommend that you always use a dehumidifier to make sure you get a model that is strong enough for your area. Gross also suggests buying a model that includes a drain pipe that leads to a sump pump or French drain, rather than a sump.
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